While final numbers have yet to be released, preliminary turnout figures for the Nevada caucuses suggest voter enthusiasm is high in the state — and that Democrats concerned about the lack of record-breaking turnout in Iowa’s contest may have little to fear.
As Nevada political expert and Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston noted, turnout for the caucuses could surpass the 2008 record of 118,000 caucus-goers, and was certainly greater than in 2016.
Looks as if turnout today combined with early voting has a chance to break the 118K from 2008. Will easily surpass the 84K of '16.— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) February 23, 2020
The size of the caucuses’ turnout was evident even before they began Saturday, thanks to four days of early caucusing (that took the form of ranked-choice voting). Ahead of Saturday’s in-person caucuses, about 70,000 people filled out their early caucusing forms, a number that nearly surpassed the total of 84,000 people who caucused in 2016.
Across the country, Democrats have been telling pollsters for months how excited they are to vote — for example, a January Quinnipiac University national poll found 85 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters were either “extremely” or “very” motivated to participate in their primaries and caucuses — but early results from Iowa’s caucuses didn’t appear to reflect this sort of enthusiasm, causing some observers to suggest Iowa’s results were disappointing for not having obliterated 2008’s record caucuses participation.
But things appear to be different in Nevada.
Part of this is likely due to expanded caucus access. Nevadans were able to participate in early caucusing at any site; their forms were then delivered by officials to where they would have caucused in person Saturday. And — in part thanks to the efforts of unions like the Culinary Union — there were a number of sites easily accessible to the state’s shift workers, like a 24-hour early caucusing site in Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel.
Nevada’s strong turnout comes after New Hampshire also broke its voter turnout record for primaries last week. A total of 300,622 ballots were cast, higher than the previous record of 288,672 votes in 2008, a time when primaries saw high turnout nationwide.
Nevada and New Hampshire indicate that Iowa’s lukewarm turnout isn’t part of a larger trend. Despite expectations that the “first in the nation” Iowa caucuses would attract a large crowd of Democrats energized by their anger against President Donald Trump, only about 176,436 people showed up. That’s only slightly better than the turnout of 171,517 in 2016 and far behind the 239,000 voters who caucused in 2008.
Voter turnout — particularly in swing states — will be particularly important this year given the margins Democrats will require to beat Trump. Fortunately for Democratic leadership, crowds in Nevada and New Hampshire indicate that getting people to vote ought not to be an issue.